By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
SEATTLE, April 28 — Microsoft and The New York Times unveiled software on Friday that would allow readers to download an electronic version of the newspaper and view it on a portable device.
With Microsoft's new Windows Vista software, to be available in January, virtually any newspaper, magazine or book can be formatted into an electronic version and read online or off. The software would allow The Times to replicate its look — fonts, typeface and layout — more closely than its Web site now does.
Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The Times, unveiled the prototype at the annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Newspapers have been trying to develop a stronger online presence as readers and advertisers continue to migrate to the Internet. The new software is meant to make it easier to read an electronic version of a paper and allow readers to download multiple papers and magazines to take with them.
The Times said it would charge advertisers to appear on the new version of the newspaper, called Times Reader, but it had not decided whether to charge readers for the service. Microsoft would include the offering in the next version of its operating system.
For today's demonstration, The Times was downloaded onto small tablet computers, about the size of a hardcover book, which are already commercially available for $1,000 to $3,000. But this printlike version of the newspaper could also be downloaded onto a home computer or a laptop. The electronic paper is displayed in columns and it formats itself to fit any size screen.
Mr. Gates said he had long wanted to make easier what he called "on-screen reading" and he had reached out to The Times to help develop that ability.
Mr. Sulzberger said the software combined the portability of the print paper with the immediacy of the Internet. Readers can in effect turn the page electronically. There is also a gauge that tells them how much of the paper they have read and how much more is left.
Tom Bodkin, an assistant managing editor of The Times and its design director, demonstrated Times Reader to the audience. "You can page through the entire paper in a natural and intuitive way," Mr. Bodkin said. Mr. Gates said that starting in January, new computers would come equipped with the software that would allow access to such newly formatted newspapers. He said he expected that by then, other publications would have developed electronic versions closer to their own styles and typefaces.
There have been previous efforts to create digital content distribution systems. For example, Zinio Systems Inc. publishes Zinio Reader, that allows viewing various magazines in digital format, including Penthouse and Macworld magazine.
Roger F. Fidler, director of technology initiatives at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, has long been an advocate of digital mobile publishing. His group recently introduced eMprint, a hybrid digital publishing platform based on Adobe Reader software.
Microsoft's software will be available for testing in several weeks, as will Times Reader.